ATHENS – A Greek court on Friday rejected an attempt to toughen the sentences for a group of men convicted of beating an American on a resort island in 2017, upholding the original sentences of six men for aggravated assaults and rejecting a call to find them guilty of murder.
Prosecutors were seeking a retrial following the original conviction in the murder of American Bakary Henderson, a black 22-year-old college graduate from Texas, arguing that the sentences were too lenient. His family’s lawyer called the court’s decision in the western city of Patras “a sad day for Greek justice.”
The decision means that the sentences remained unchanged for the five men who were already at large after serving their sentences for assault. The sixth man, who received a longer sentence, will be released in the coming days after the court reduced his sentence.
Jill Henderson, Mr Henderson’s mother, said the family was “extremely disappointed” by the verdict. “Unfortunately, it looks like the majority sympathized with the defendants and not with our black American son,” she said, adding that the family would take the case to the Greek Supreme Court.
Mr Henderson was killed in the summer of 2017 on the island of Zakynthos. The attack made international headlines due to its brutality and statements by witnesses that it may have been racially motivated.
His relatives, who traveled to Greece several times for the two trials, said the initial sentences were out of proportion to the brutality of the attack. They said they wanted Mr Henderson’s attackers to get the maximum sentence for murder, life in prison. Under Greek law, that would mean 20 years in prison.
Nine people who were originally involved in the attack went on trial for the murder in 2018. Six defendants were convicted, but on a less serious charge – serious assault – and three were acquitted. Following this trial, Greek prosecutor Giorgos Bisbikis persuaded the judges to retrial the six defendants on the original murder charges.
The concept of double jeopardy only applies in Greek law when the sentence is final. Since the original decision had been appealed by the prosecutor and was therefore not final, a retrial was possible. It started in February.
The retrial concluded on Friday when a mixed appeals court of three judges and four jurors narrowly upheld the original convictions, 4 to 3, and two judges, including the president of the court, upheld the prosecutor’s proposal for a murder conviction.
“Bakary Henderson came to our country as a tourist,” Christos Kaklamanis, the family’s lawyer, said after the verdict on Friday.
“For the second time, our justice system betrayed him,” he said, adding that the decision “sends a signal that other similar acts of violence can be forgiven.”
Mr. Henderson was traveling in Greece with friends and promoting the launch of the clothing line at the time of his death in July 2017, according to his parents, who were in Greece for a retrial.
The main task of the prosecution was to convince the court that Mr. Henderson’s attackers intended to kill him, but the defense argued that his death, although tragic, was accidental.
Video from surveillance cameras there was a brutal attack in the resort town of Laganas. A mob of men can be seen chasing Mr. Henderson down the street before throwing him into a car and showering him with punches and kicks. At the time, a Greek police spokesman stated that Mr. Henderson died within 30 seconds.
Of the six who were initially imprisoned, the Bosnian-born Briton received the longest sentence, 15 years. That sentence was reduced to eight years on Friday after the court found he behaved well after his conviction, and he will be released in a few days. According to the Greek penal code and the parole system, convicts typically serve about a third of the sentences handed down by the courts.
The remaining five men, all Serbs, were sentenced to terms ranging from five to ten years, but all were released by the time of the retrial.
Witness testimony indicated that the attack on Mr. Henderson may have been racially motivated. The bartender told Greek investigators that as she posed for a photograph with Mr. Henderson, a man standing nearby remarked, “There are a lot of Serbs in the bar. Why are you talking to a black guy? The woman said a bystander then punched Mr. Henderson, who retaliated by hitting him over the head with a beer bottle, an exchange also caught on video.
Violent fights are not uncommon in Laganas, a resort beloved by young tourists for its cheap alcohol and vibrant nightlife. In recent years, the island’s authorities have tried to curb alcohol-related offenses while at the same time supporting foreign tourism that supports the local economy.